Monday, November 30, 2015

The Open Door:: The Rosemary Spell by Virginia Zimmerman

"What are you going to do with the lower cupboard?" Adam asks.

"It doesn't open, remember? We did this already," I protest. "It's stuck." I kick the little door.

"I'll get the toolbox." I said. I push myself up and the wide floorboard shifts underneath my hand. Adam's eyebrows arch. He presses it with his hand and it rocks. "Do you think...."

I lift the board. Something black catches my eye. It's a handle, I'm sure. I push the cool metal to the right. For a heartbeat the small handle resists and then, as if with a sigh of relief, it gives.

The cupboard door swings open.

Her friend Adam is helping Rosemary move her things to her dad's old study, and they can't resist the mystery of the floor-level cupboard with the handle that doesn't open the little door. But when it opens, it reveals a greater mystery, a large, very old leather-bound book, printed on vellum, with the name of the region's famous poet, Constance Brooks, written in elaborate cursive inside. Faded spidery writing appears on  several pages, a list of herbs,  but the only other inscription they can decipher has a likewise cryptic sound:

Rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray, love, remember.

Eighth-graders Adam and Rosemary have read novels of magical books with secrets hidden within, and they show the book to Adam's sixteen-year-old sister Shelby, who used to be the ringleader of their adventures. Sixteen now, busy with classes and a boyfriend, even Shelby seems to feel that there is some enticing secret, something of a magic spell within the almost invisible inscriptions in the old book, which reminds them of a book they shared three summers ago, Seven-Day Magic (Tales of Magic), in which a found book contains secret powers. Later, alone with the book, Adam and Rosemary come upon a clue, in Geraldine Brooks' faded handwriting, something they had not seen at first, the name "Wilkie," written over and over, filling the page, and one brief sentence:

Father says we need the rosemary so that we can remember.

And later, another inscription appears where it seems not to have been before, and Adam and Rosemary struggle to decipher the pale spidery script.

Ah, treble words of absence spoken low
For ears of fam'ly, friend, or willful foe.
Speak thrice to conjure nothing on the spot.
Who harkens here will presently be forgot....
Void and nothing, void and nothing--all strife.

They read the final line together.

Third's the charm, to void and nothing turn life.

Intrigued, the two share the verse with their English teacher, who agrees the lines resemble the form of an old spell and suggests that they visit the poet Geraldine Brooks, alive but in her nineties, living in a residential home in town, to ask her about the book. But when they visit, they find her lost in dementia, unable to explain the book or the rhyme, although she repeats her memories of her father planting the rosemary on the island. and keeps reciting, "Father says we need the rosemary so that we can remember," and the phrase from the rhyme "void and nothing, void and nothing."... and "Wilkie, Wilkie." the name of her little brother, she remembers, who died very young.

With Shelby in on the mystery, the three decide to row out to the island where they used to play, one where a large patch of wild rosemary has flourished for the many years since Gwendolyn Brooks' family home burned. Surrounded by the rosemary, trying to capture the meaning, the conjuring, in the rhyme, they read it aloud once, twice, and then, as Shelby points out the verse commands, thrice.

And in an inkling, Shelby is gone--so gone that Adam does not remember that she was just there or that he ever even had a sister. Back at his house, Shelby's room is now a nondescript spare bedroom and there are only three places for Adam's family at the kitchen table. But perhaps because of her name, Rosemary somehow holds on to a fleeting memory of Shelby, and always when she reads the line, Rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray, love, remember. she knows that only she can find the rhyme that will bring Shelby back.

Virginia Zimmerman's forthcoming fantasy novel, The Rosemary Spell (Houghton Mifflin Clarion Books, 2015), reveals a mystery within a conundrum, a book whose story is to uncover the story within a book within the story, one that can only be fully revealed to young people of just the right age. Well within the tradition of children's fantasy, stories like Harry Potter and his sorcerer's stone and Will Stanton of The Dark Is Rising series, Zimmerman creates two young people who are able to release the vague memories of an elderly mind and decipher the conundrum concealed within the old book.

With many literary references, from Edward Eager to William Shakespeare, this is a riveting tale that will fascinate young readers who love an intricate mystery. In a gripping story of life and memory lost and found, Zimmerman's tale reveals two characters at childhood's end, on the cusp of growing up, still able to sense the essential nature of any work of fiction, that sort of literary magic which creates a whole believable world which exists first in the mind of the author and then only in the mind of the reader when the book is opened. Time and its passage, love and life's passing, and the magic of words, all combine here to make a absorbing tale for young adult readers.

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